Ironically, you have to descend a flight of steps in order to find the slice of heaven called Feast of Eden.
At this breakfast and lunchtime spot is tucked incongruously beneath a Harris Bank in Palatine, chef Lisa Bellan entices customers with fresh soups, hot-of-the-griddle paninis and a variety of tempting homemade cheesecakes.
Bellan, originally from Indiana, grew up on a farm where she learned to cook from the best -- her mother and grandmother. She and her husband, Barry, moved to Palatine six years ago and opened the eatery four years ago.
How did you come to cook professionally? I am a self-taught chef who grew up on a farm where we grew and fabricated nearly everything we ate. We raised meat and poultry (my mother and I butchered from 50-100 chickens each summer!), a garden and an orchard. We all helped pick fruits and vegetables for canning, freezing, pickling, preserving, jamming, curing, etc. I remember standing on a stool beside my mother and "helping" bake pies, cakes, cookies and breads from the time I was old enough to see over the counter. I was blessed to have "cooking school" in session every day while I was growing up. I was also an avid 4-Her, fitting and showing cattle and taking cooking, gardening, etc. for many years.
I continued to feed my obsession with the production and preparation of food by collecting over 300 cookbooks and textbooks, as well as subscribing to lots of periodicals related to the food and restaurant industries. I never tire of learning new things.
How was Feast of Eden hatched? I had wanted to own a food-related business for my entire life; it was just a matter of timing. While living in California (Gilroy, Garlic Capital of the World) for five years I began to think of that region as a type of "Garden of Eden." When I moved back East and the business was born, it was sort of a play on "East of Eden," becoming "Feast" because most good memories of holidays, special events, and even family life include feasting. I wanted it to remind people of the original Garden of Eden, too.
We can't help but notice that Cheesecakes seem to be a specialty! How many types of cheesecake do you make? What is your personal favorite? I sometimes lose track of the number! At last count, we have offered 17 different flavors, which change seasonally. My personal favorite changes with my mood and the season, and since they are all my original recipes, it's kind of like asking which one of my children is the favorite. I don't have one, I love them all!
How do you come up with the sandwich and salad ideas? Honestly, they are the result of all of the experiences I've had with food. My mind never turns off when it comes to new ways to interpret those experiences. I also encourage my awesome kitchen staff to share their ideas and experiences. That is what excites me so much about what I do; each day is filled with new ideas, experimenting and creating new dishes, then refining them until we're happy with them. We also strive to cook seasonally, because fresh, local ingredients always taste best.
What/who has been an inspiration? Growing up, my mother and grandmothers, all of whom were fabulous cooks, were definitely influential. Later, I was inspired by the foods I experienced through travel, the different places we lived, and through the explosion of information now available regarding all aspects of food.
What trends do you see in the food industry? I am delighted to see American regional foods being treated with the same respect that used to be reserved for European and other cuisines. The Midwest is the bread basket of the World, yet its foods seemed to be considered somewhat "second-class." That has all changed, particularly with the current farm-to-table movement. I have to admit it bewilders me a bit that this is discussed as if it were just "discovered" in the past 10 years. I feel the same about the "nose-to-tail" philosophy (using the entire animal not just those parts with the highest retail value) that has also come into vogue. These things have been done for generations "down on the farm" and in other cultures, but it is exciting to see these ideas are finally being appreciated and put in to practice on a larger scale now.
How important to you is using local produce? I don't have space for a garden, but I do have an herb garden, which is wonderful. I also go back home to the farm to bring fruit from the orchard, and I have my own "Garden Divas" here locally, some wonderful ladies who bring me their garden's excess. Nothing tastes like produce that has ripened on the plant before it's picked, so I use it as much as possible while it is available. Unfortunately, we do have real winters in the Midwest, so frozen or imported is the only option during the winter months.
What is one ingredient you could not do without? That's a tough one. Even the best of ingredients, combined with the utmost skill still would not be delicious if not seasoned properly, so I'd have to say good, quality salt is a "can't live without."
What is the most important tool in your kitchen? I'd say my hands, but since they're attached, I have to say a good, ultra sharp chef's knife.
What do you like to do in your spare time? Spare time, what's that? Seriously, there is very little of it, but I like to spend it with my family. I also love to play golf with Barry, read and dream up decorating and rehabbing projects (for when I do have more spare time!).
What's next for you and Feast of Eden? Well, Barry and I agree that the experimental phase of the business in the basement of a bank building has proved a success, so we're looking for ways to add a location above "sea-level," as Barry puts it. We would also like to have other locations, as we continue to grow and improve the operation. We of course would welcome meeting any and all interested investors.
Tell us about this recipe: Speedy Bacon and Cheddar Quiche. Bacon is a staple in the Midwestern kitchen, as are good cheese, eggs and cream. These are the stars in this quick and easy dish and you'll never notice the mayo! Serve with a green salad and you've got a complete, easy meal.
Try this at home or at Feast of Eden, 800 E. Northwest Hwy., Palatine; in the Harris Bank building. (847) 991-3336.
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